Caravan awnings: a buyers' guide
Awnings are one of the simplest, quickest and most effective ways of adding extra space to your caravan when pitched up on site
- Introduction to caravan awnings
- What is the right caravan awning for you?
- Awning frames and supports
- Awning fabrics
- Pitching your awning
- Final thoughts
- About our magazines
Words by Louise Cottrill
Introduction to caravan awnings
Awnings are a valuable addition to any caravan, offering an extension to living space, and can be used for a variety of purposes – it is essentially a tent-like structure that is attached to the side of your caravan, providing extra relaxing or dining space when you’re away.
In fact, some awnings can more than double your undercover space so they really are worth considering, especially if you tour as a family and/or have kit such as bikes, watersports gear or even just want somewhere undercover for your wet dog and walking gear to dry out. Indeed, the extra space awnings provide can offer an extra sleeping area, a dining area, a food preparation zone and a relaxation area or a combination of all of these things.
Whether you are a seasoned caravan enthusiast or a newcomer to the lifestyle, understanding the basics of caravan awnings can help you choose the right one for your needs. The size of your awning will depend on the size of your caravan, as well as your personal requirements.
Weight is also an important consideration, as you will need to transport your awning to and from your destination. Lightweight materials are ideal for this, as they are easy to handle and transport but there are pros and cons with all of these aspects and that’s where we can help make that all-important decision.
Ease of use is also a factor, as you will need to be able to erect your awning quickly and easily, especially if the weather is less than perfect. Luckily, today’s awnings are designed to be easy to assemble, with clear instructions, which should equal less drama when you’re trying to assemble it.
Awnings and porches are designed for use in different conditions. For example, some are extremely light in weight and speedy to build, so ideal for weekends away or for caravanners who move from campsite to campsite every few days. Others are made to withstand severe weather and can take longer to erect but will remain a solid structure for weeks or even months; some can even be pitched for an entire season.
What is the right caravan awning for you?
(Photo courtesy of Lee Davey)
Awnings are not an everyday purchase – they can be a significant and costly investment. If your awning is going to be used almost every weekend, then it’s worth investing in a top-quality model. If you go for a luxury full awning, for example, you’d be looking at upwards of £2,500, depending on the length of your caravan.
At the opposite end of the price spectrum, you can find lightweight, simple porches for as little as £150 for a basic sun canopy. In between those prices is a vast choice and you’ll soon discover there’s an awning or porch to suit every budget and every requirement.
What are the different types of caravan awnings?
#1 Full caravan awnings
These give you maximum space, so they’re ideal for holidays where you are pitched up at the same site for more than just a few days, as well as for permanent pitches. They take longer to construct than porches, but that’s worthwhile when you’re staying for a week or more. These awnings fit the full length of a caravan from bottom front to bottom rear and are available in many different lengths to accommodate all lengths of caravan. The measurement of full awnings is expressed in centimetres, and what you need depends on the length of your caravan. You need to know your rail length – this is the length of the awning rail that you will see running along the caravan on the side where the door is located.
Some awning manufacturers have size guides on their websites – just type in the make, model and year of your caravan and up comes the size you need. This can be much easier than trying to figure it all out yourself. Depending on the model, full-sized awnings can be heavy to handle and transport, which will affect your payload and therefore what else you can carry. If you want to tow with the awning in your caravan, its weight must be subtracted from your payload.
Some seasonal full awnings can weigh 50kg but weights have dropped and now you can get full-sized touring awnings weighing less than half of this.
#2 Caravan porch awnings
Porches are quicker to construct and lighter to transport. A generalisation would be that porches are normally smaller than the full awnings, although some porches can be nearly as large as full awnings.
Porch awnings create a smaller porch area; they are available in fewer sizes but are more universally fitting as they do not cover the full length of the caravan.
The downside is that you don’t have as much space as with a full awning but they suit many caravanners well and the space deficit is outweighed by their lightweight structure, ease of installing and disassembling and their lower cost.
#3 Caravan canopies
Canopies are easy and quick to erect, can stretch the full width of your caravan and can also be permanently fitted so it is just a question of unwinding it for instant cover from the sun or rain.
The downsides are they have no sides so offer no wind protection or privacy and, talking of wind, they can be damaged by strong winds so need to be wound back in should the weather turn too bad. Some canopies can have sides attached to them, making them similar to a full-sized awning.
Awning frames and supports
There are three types of awning – here's how they work
Awnings are supported on one side by the caravan itself and then by either poles or inflatable air supports. Awning frames come in four types: steel, aluminium, fibreglass and air. With many awnings on the market you get the option to choose your preferred frame material to suit the use to which you’ll be putting your awning or porch.
Steel awning supports
This is a good option if you are planning to leave your awning up for a lengthy period of time, in varying weather conditions. For example, if your caravan is sited for a whole season on the same pitch.
Weight isn’t usually a consideration when you’re only transporting your awning to and from a campsite at the start and end of a season. Sometimes you may need additional steel poles for year-round pitching so it remains stable in poor weather when you are not there.
Aluminium and fibreglass awning supports
Both of these are lighter-weight options, suitable for touring, when the weight of your awning is a more important consideration in relation to your payload. When it comes to erecting the awning, both aluminium and fibreglass frames are easier to handle, because each pole is lighter than steel. Aluminium and fibreglass also weather better.
The invention of air technology in awning construction has revolutionised the market and has provided buyers with a new breed of awning that is speedy and easy to construct. The principle behind air awnings is a system of pipework, which you inflate using an upright pump. It’s easy and very quick. If you’d rather let battery power do the inflation for you, just buy a 12V pump.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Howes Alamy)
Awning fabrics are a critical factor when buying. You want something that dries quickly after rain, that is protected against damaging effects of UV light, that is tough enough to withstand strong winds, and that is both breathable and provides a degree of insulation
The fabrics will vary from lightweight, thin polyester to top-quality, solution-dyed acrylic. They can be enormously different in weight, look and feel. And the fabric choice depends on how you’ll use the awning.
Frequent users should invest in a better, more expensive awning which, typically, will be built to last. Occasional users may struggle to justify such a major expense.
Lightweight polyester has some advantages. It’s quick to dry after rain and light in weight to handle when you’re constructing and packing it away. They’re less expensive than acrylic options.
Within this sector, there’s a considerable variation regarding thickness and density of weave, tautness and weight. Expensive, high-quality acrylic awnings are made to last many years. They look more taut and rigid than lighter-weight fabrics.
In the acrylic sector, there’s an interesting fabric: fibre-dyed material, also called solution-dyed. In the manufacturing process, the fibres that make up the fabric are dyed before being woven. This fabric is more resistant to the effects of UV light than fabric that has been dyed after it has been made into yarn.
Try to look for models that have extra protection against rain and sunlight, as these tend to be more durable.
Pitching your awning
Before buying, be aware of just how heavy and easy or difficult an awning is to erect, especially on a gusty day or if you have no helpers. Erecting and dismantling an awning is perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of caravanning for a first-timer. This is where air awnings come into their own, especially the latest single-point inflation models.
Caravan awning accessories
(Photo courtesy of Bill Allsopp Alamy)
- Lighting: Go for LED lights.
- Carpets, flooring and groundsheets: These all add more comfort, warmth and practicality to the inside of the awning.
- Heating: If you’re a year-round caravanner or even like to pitch up out of season, a safe awning heater can be a great investment for you. Check out our guide to caravan heating systems here.
- Inner tents, privacy rooms and annexes: These are available to make the space inside your awning work better for you.
- Pump for inflatable air awnings: An essential and there are both manual pumps and electric pumps available today.
- Roof liners: Can add extra insulating properties as well as extra protection.
- Additional tent pegs: Pegs are an essential for many, especially if you are not sure of the type of pitch you’re getting.
- Storm straps: Straps are essential for seasonal awnings that are left up for long periods and preferable for those who pitch up when the weather is not on your side.
- Cleaners: These will keep your awning in the best condition for years to come.
When it comes to choosing the right caravan awning, it is important to do your research and consider your requirements.
You can buy awnings to suit all budgets but don’t be rushed into a decision. We’d always recommend buying from a reputable manufacturer or heading to your nearest dealer with an accessories shop.
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